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Roulette is one of the most popular casino games – and perhaps the most iconic – but its history is somewhat shrouded in mystery. Here we attempt to delve into the past to ascertain how this simple but extremely entrancing game was born, how it has developed and even where it might be headed in the future.

Ancient History of Roulette

As with many games and sports, the true origins of roulette are very much open to debate with many historians offering conflicting or opposing theories. What is clear, however, is that there were a good number of games throughout ancient history that were based around a wheel or disc of some description and that involved some form of gambling on some outcome. For instance, it is documented that the Romans used to play a game in which they fired arrows through the gaps between the spokes of wheels and bet on which gap the arrow would pass through. The Ancient Greeks – a few of whose gods were partial to a spot of gambling – had a game which involved making markings on a shield and rolling it, with bets places on which marking would come to rest in front of a marker (such as an arrow).

Whether these early games which revolved (pun intended) around a wheel of some sort led directly to the modern version of roulette so many people love today is impossible to say for sure. But they certainly give the indication that a spinning wheel has long appealed to our sensibilities… especially when money can be made by betting on it.

History of Modern Roulette

Roulette History

The modern version of roulette involves a wheel that is split from numbers one to 36 with one or two zeroes (depending on the version) and the earliest form of such a game is thought to have been developed by the French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who was actually trying to invent a perpetual motion machine at the time! Given that Pascal – who lived a short life from 1623 to 1662 – was also one of the founders of probability theory, it is perhaps fitting that his name should be attached to such a fascinating game of chance. But he can’t take all the credit for the development of the modern game of roulette.

The game of roulette – which means “little wheel” (or something similar) in French – seems to have developed gradually over around a century from Pascal’s time to the mid- to late 18th century. It developed as an amalgamation of a number of games that were popular in the day including the English games of Roly Poly, Reiner and Ace of Hearts and the Italian games entitled Hoca and Birbi. Combined with a French board game that was already called “roulette”, the modern game came about gradually as rules were combined and adapted, rather than in some “eureka” moment by a truly great mathematician (sorry, Pascal, but you do have quite a lot attributed to you already!).

Referenced in a French novel – entitled “La Roulette” – from the year 1796, the game of roulette as we know it from the bricks and mortar casinos of today was played in casinos in Paris in the 1790s and gradually spread around Europe and then the world. When brothers Francois and Luis Blanc took the game to Germany in 1843 it grew in popularity – until gambling was banned in the country. That forced the brothers to travel to other countries, taking the game with them, and this is thought to have helped spread the popularity (and standardised wheel and rules) across the continent. It spread to America in the same century as immigrants brought the game with them across the Atlantic, and there it became extremely popular too. Since its early days roulette has become the game most associated with casinos the world over, and it hasn’t lost any of its appeal to the masses.

The Future of Roulette

While the fundamentals of the game of roulette have not really changed since the early 18th century, there have been many subtle variations over the years and – with the advent of online casinos in the mid-1990s – the game has been stretched and morphed into a variety of shapes and sizes. Online casino players are now able to enjoy a wide variety of roulette (or roulette-style) games from the comfort of their own home. They vary in size: from “mini roulette” that incorporates just 12 numbers plus the zero to multi-wheel variants in which the odds can be massive (1000/1 for instance); they also vary in themes, style, “look” and many have their own unique set of bonuses, rules or side bets that can be taken up.

With the recent advent of “live dealer” online casinos, things could be seen to have gone full circle (pun intended, yet again!) to a degree as real life croupiers are filmed spinning the roulette wheel and ball and players can place bets as they would if in the casino… but over the internet from the comfort of their own home. In terms of future developments, the ability to further immerse oneself in the “live” roulette games is surely on the cards in the not-too-distant future as streaming in HD and even 3D becomes the norm and then perhaps even some kind of virtual reality through which it really does feel like being in the casino itself. Of course, people will still actually visit the bricks and mortar casinos for as long as they exist and this great game of roulette promises to retain its enduring appeal for centuries to come.